When training to teach English as a foreign language, or any other subject for that matter, at some stage the need arises to examine what exactly it is that makes someone a good teacher. After all, if you do not know the qualities you should possess, how are you to become one? The TEFL International handbook provides a summary of teachers? own suggestions of the characteristics required, and lists personality traits such as patience and kindness, and skills such as the ability to motivate, understand and entertain (1). The handbook uses this list to surmise that a good teacher is one who ?cares about his/her teaching, but cares more about the learning of the students? (2).
If the students? needs are therefore the number one priority, then self-analysis on the part of the teacher must also be added to the list. Every class is of course different, and, as Steven Tait puts it, the success of lessons ?is almost always determined by the work the teacher does before the children begin? (3). This means that the needs of every class are different, and if the teacher truly cares, then he/she will have to examine his/her role in the classroom, and his/her abilities and techniques in order to adapt to these needs. Moreover, if every class has its own individual agenda, then each class will undoubtedly provide new confrontations and challenges, and as Louden states, it is the teacher?s responsibility to ?strive to resolve them in ways that in turn lead to new horizons of understanding?(4). A good teacher will do this, Dimitios Thanasoules goes on to inform us, by looking ? both inwards and outwards? and by ?becom(ing) aware of others? points of views as well as her own beliefs ? about learners, about learning, and about herself? (5). The teacher who cares about his/her students must use self-analysis to question what is good about his/her lessons, what is not working, and what can be improved upon in order adapt to the students needs. This does not just apply to teaching techniques, but also to the way in which students are treated on an emotional level; some students may be confident and may be motivated by a loud, lively classroom, others may be shy and may need patience and kindness in order to be brought out of their shell, so the teacher needs to analyse the way his/her personality and the way he/she approaches students effects them in order to make them as happy and productive as possible. The subject matter should also be made relevant to the people it is being taught to so they can relate to it quicker and thus understand it better, teaching a Thai student vocabulary by describing alien pastimes peculiar only to Britain for example would be counter productive, as the student would have to grapple with the irrelevant concept of the pastime as well and so may miss the lesson point itself. Self-analysis should be done on every level, because by doing this, a teacher will be able to make the best lessons possible to motivate, entertain, maximize student productivity and increase understanding, and will develop their patience and kindness along the way, all of which means that the self-analysis inadvertently and automatically helps them to develop as a person as well as a teacher and thus acquire the other qualities listed that makes them good at their job. Furthermore, if the teacher cares about his/her students, and is seen to be adapting to their needs, the students will pick up on this and also adapt. If students care in return they will be more likely to participate and co-operate, and having a rapport with your students makes the lessons easier, fun, and more productive for all concerned. As Thanasoulas succinctly surmises, ?what teachers usually get back from their students is what they have brought to the teacher- learning process? (6).
So how do we successfully analyse ourselves? There have been many investigations into the subject, but the key to all of them appears to lie in the art of communication. Maureen Kenefick points out that ?to be a good teacher you have to be a good learner? (7). D.A. Schon describes this as becoming a ?reflective practitioner? (8), or in other words, you should reflect on each lesson?s strengths and weaknesses, and then use this to identify areas for improvement. It is my opinion that the students communicate to the teacher in a variety of ways, both deliberately and subconsciously; some students will let you know outright that they have issues, some will actively misbehave, while others may simply withdraw or show signs of boredom without meaning to. All of this communication is teacher feedback, so listening and observing your students is essential if you are to analyse how your lesson is going. Moreover, everybody learns in different ways. As Paul Meehan writes, ?a single approach does not fit all? (9) so ?the learning process needs to be structured around the learner?s needs? (10) to ensure that the ?student (is) placed at the centre of the teaching plan? (11). Whether teaching one student or a large number of students, the teacher should strive to use as many different learning methods as possible, not only to analyse what works and what doesn?t, but to stop the lessons from becoming monotonous. Diversity in teaching techniques will accommodate the diverse needs of the students and allow self-analysis through their reactions as well as improving lesson productivity. As well as this, Meehan continues, the teacher will be influenced by their own preferred learning styles (12), so by encompassing as many different techniques as possible and then gauging the student?s response and using the one that works best for the students instead of the ones that works best for the teacher, the teacher will be able to analyse themselves and get rid of bad teaching habits they may not have even been aware of. A good way of self-analysis may simply be a case of trying something new and seeing how it goes, to leave the comfort zone and by learning from your mistakes. It may, even more simply be a case of sitting down with a pen and paper and making a list of what went well and what didn?t. The important thing is to analyse as much as possible to improve yourself in order to be the best teacher you can be. This is of course a painstaking ongoing process that will never end, as there is always room for improvement, and there is always a new method or technique or personal attribute that can be learned or acquired. As Thanasoulas concludes, ?there is no such thing as a perfect teacher? (13). However, by using self-analysis to constantly communicate, learn and improve, you will be well on the road to being one of the best, and your hard work will pay off for yourself as well as your students, so it will all be worthwhile. References. 1. TEFL International Handbook. 2. TEFL International Handbook. 3. Tait, Steven, Ingredients for Successful Communicative Tasks. www.englishclub.com, 2001 4. Louden, W, Collegiality, Curriculum and Editorial Change. Curriculum Journal 2 (3) pp 361-73. 1991. 5. Thanasoulas, D. What do Teachers bring to the teacher-learning process? www.tefl.net. 2002 6. Thanasoulas, D. What do Teachers bring to the teacher-learning process? www.tefl.net. 2002 7. Kenefick, M. Teacher Self-Analysis. www.teflcorp.com 2006 8. Schon, D. A. The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action. New York, Basic Books. 1983 9. Meehan, Paul. Accounting for Style. www.tefl.net 2005 10. Meehan, Paul. Accounting for Style. www.tefl.net 2005 11. Meehan, Paul. Accounting for Style. www.tefl.net 2005 12. Meehan, Paul. Accounting for Style. www.tefl.net 2005 13. Thanasoulas, D. What do Teachers bring to the teacher-learning process? www.tefl.net. 2002
Author: Joanne Nicolson
Date of post: 2006-11-20